UPDATED: CAMERA Challenges UMASS Amherst Chancellor Subbaswamy

In light of the failure of UMASS Amherst to hold Communication’s Professor Sut Jhally accountable for the manipulation of the journalistic record in his movie “The Occupation of the American Mind,” the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has contacted the school’s chancellor, Dr. Kumble R. Subbaswamy. In a letter sent on Sept. 18, 2019, CAMERA asked Chancellor Subbaswamy to address Jhally’s persistent propagandizing against Israel.

A staffer from Dr. Subbaswamy’s office has informed CAMERA that a response is forthcoming.

The full text of the letter is posted below.

[September 27, 2019 update: CAMERA has sent more information to Chancellor Subbaswamy. Please scroll down to the bottom to see what was sent.]

 

Kumble R. Subbaswamy, PhD                                                                   September 18, 2019
Chancellor
UMASS Amherst

[Address omitted]

Kumble R. Subbaswamy, Ph.D., Chancellor of UMASS Amherst.

Dear Dr. Subbaswamy:

I write to you from the offices of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) in Massachusetts. We are a media-monitoring organization supported by 65,000 members in the United States.

A member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, CAMERA promotes fair and accurate coverage of the Middle East. Most of our work is focused on media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN and National Public Radio. We also have a campus program that seeks to promote honest and accurate discussion about the Middle East in colleges and universities throughout the United States.

One of the troubling realities that we have been forced to address is how inaccurate and biased media coverage about Israel promotes hostility toward Jews in American civil society. This problem is particularly acute on college campuses.

Detailed reports by the AMCHA Initiative headquartered in California document a “statistically robust correlation between anti-Israel campus activism and acts of anti-Jewish hostility, as well as a clear association between faculty support for anti-Israel academic boycotts and an increase in campus antisemitism.” Moreover AMCHA has “demonstrated empirically that anti-Zionist harassment is the biggest contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, and that Israel-related incidents are becoming more flagrant and include open calls for the boycott of Jewish and pro-Israel students and groups.”

The logic is pretty simple. When propagandists falsely portray the Jewish state as a murderous, marauding, and genocidal nation, extremists in the United States are given leave to portray American Jews as enemies of democracy, human rights, and the American people writ large.

Sadly enough, it appears this phenomenon is playing itself out at UMASS Amherst where you serve as Chancellor. Multiple news reports and a database maintained by the previously mentioned AMCHA Initiative indicates that there is a troubling degree of hostility toward Jews at UMASS Amherst. Jewish students report that they have been subjected to antisemitic taunts from their fellow students at the school and there have been numerous instances of swastikas being spray painted on campus. It is CAMERA’s belief that anti-Israel propaganda is a contributing factor to this hostility.

It is for this reason that I call your attention to the propagandizing of Sut Jhally, Ph.D., who is currently serving as chairman of the Communications Department at UMASS Amherst. Over the course of his career at UMASS Amherst, Jhally has, on numerous occasions, promoted misinformation about the Arab-Israeli conflict that has invariably portrayed Israel and its Jewish supporters in a profoundly distorted, negative light. (I have written extensively about Jhally’s purveying of misinformation on CAMERA’s website, CAMERA.org, Jewish News Service, and the Times of Israel.) Sadly, Jhally is not amenable to correction and neither the faculty nor the administration at UMASS Amherst appears willing to hold him accountable for his ethical transgressions.

After watching a number of online videos associated with the classes Professor Jhally teaches at UMASS Amherst, and after speaking with a number of people familiar with Jhally’s career at the school, CAMERA fears that he has used the classroom to further his own political and ideological agenda.

This politicization of the classroom has negative impacts on the quality of education offered to students at UMASS Amherst, whether they agree with Jhally’s politics or not. In 1970, the Council of the American Association of University Professors declared: “Students are entitled to an atmosphere conducive to learning and to even-handed treatment in all aspects of the teacher-student relationship.” It also stated that “Students should not be forced by the authority inherent in the instructional role to make particular personal choices as to political action or their own social behavior.”

In sum, CAMERA has grave concerns that by allowing Jhally to use the classroom to promote a political agenda, UMASS Amherst is betraying its obligation to teach students “how” to think, not “what” to think.

For these and other reasons outlined below, I ask that you do the following:

1. Review the materials related to CAMERA’s complaints against Sut Jhally regarding his film, “Occupation of the American Mind,” and determine for yourself whether or not his work meets the standard expected from a professor at UMASS Amherst. In addressing this issue, we ask that you answer the following question: What would happen to a student at UMASS Amherst who had done in a paper submitted for coursework at the school what Jhally did in his movie?
If, after answering this question, you believe Jhally’s work in “Occupation of the American Mind” meets the standards expected from a professor at UMASS Amherst, we ask that you say so publicly. If it does not, we ask that you say so publicly.
We are not asking that you retry the complaints against Professor Jhally. The decision has been rendered. We are asking that you inform students, and the parents who send their children to UMASS Amherst, what standards are in force (and enforced) at the school.
2. Instruct the administrator in charge of dealing with our public records request to have someone other than Sut Jhally himself (the public records custodian, for example) select and redact the emails we have requested in our recent public records request regarding the professor’s work at the university. (This issue will be addressed in detail below.)
3. Call upon the faculty and student body at UMASS Amherst to abandon one-sided and dishonest portrayals of the Arab-Israeli conflict and promote a full understanding of the factors that have contributed to the tragic suffering of all groups in the Middle East. Singling Israel out for condemnation and applying a double standard when assessing the behavior of the Jewish state sends a clear message to both Jews and non-Jews that Jews are a legitimate target of hate and hostility.
4. Admonish UMASS Amherst faculty against using the classroom to promote their own political and ideological agendas. Such behavior represents a betrayal of the interests of students who attend UMASS to learn “how” to think, not “what” to think.
Background – “The Occupation of the American Mind”

As you probably know, CAMERA has filed two complaints against Professor Jhally regarding his manipulation of the historical record in his documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind.” In these complaints, I documented how Jhally misrepresented what two journalists said in their news coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I submitted these complaints under the impression that misrepresenting the historical and journalistic record was a violation of the academic code of conduct at UMASS Amherst.

In the first complaint, I documented how Jhally altered statements made by Bob Simon in a segment of 60 Minutes that aired in 2012. In response to this complaint, I was told by UMASS administrators that there was no intent to deceive and as a result, the alteration did not qualify as a violation of UMASS Amherst’s code of academic conduct.

In his response to our complaint, John A. Hird wrote, “There is nothing in the MEF’s interpretation and rendering of the 60 Minutes broadcast that is deceptive, as it does not at all distort the segment’s overall meaning.” CAMERA’s assessment is that Jhally’s manipulation helped obscure a factual error made by Bob Simon, whose reporting the film praises.

If a journalism or history student at UMASS Amherst had manipulated a quote in a writing assignment the way Jhally did, it would likely result in a failing grade but some reason, Jhally was given a pass. Why is that?

In the second complaint, submitted in January 2018, I documented how Jhally altered another quote in the film.

The script to Jhally’s film reads as follows:

NBC news reporter: Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more.

This quote is from a segment of NBC Nightly News which aired on Oct. 21, 2003. The relevant section of the transcript reads as follows:

Palestinians charged that Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more. (Emphasis added.)

Clearly, Dr. Jhally altered the meaning of what was said in the original report in a manner that clearly distorts the “overall meaning” of what was actually said. By deleting three crucial words — “Palestinians charged that” — from the NBC story, Jhally took an unproven allegation made by the Palestinians and denied by the Israelis and presented it as a fact — as the expressed conclusion of the journalist — to the viewers of his movie. This manipulation clearly does (to borrow a phrase from John A. Hird) “distort the segment’s overall meaning.”

This is a basic violation of academic and journalistic ethics. And yet for some reason, administrators at UMASS Amherst did not hold Professor Jhally accountable for the deception, even after it was drawn to their attention by CAMERA.

This raises a serious question: Are there any enforceable standards of conduct related to the abuse of historical sources at UMASS Amherst?

Background – “Not Backing Down”

Sadly, Professor Jhally’s animus toward Israel was given free rein at an event that took place at UMASS Amherst earlier this year. At the “Not Backing Down” event sponsored and organized by a number of academic departments at the school, the horror of Israeli deaths at the hand of Palestinian terrorists was downplayed, pro-Israel Jews were summarily ejected from the venue, and the aging rock star Roger Waters read a poem that obliquely referred to Jews sitting in bomb shelters while they act as aggressors. The poem concludes with the immortal line “F*** them/Enough/They’ve had their time/A new day dawns/And we will not be swaddled in their grime.”

Speakers at the event comprised a veritable who’s who of anti-Israel agitators including well-known antisemite Roger Waters, Linda Sarsour (who once denied the legitimacy of a young Jew’s question because he was a white male) and Marc Lamont Hill, who lost his job with CNN after he repeated Hamas’s call for Israel’s destruction (“From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”) at an event at the United Nations.

Is such a witch-trial atmosphere consistent with the mission and ethos of an institution higher learning such as UMASS Amherst?

After the event, CAMERA made a public records request asking to see the emails associated with CAMERA’s complaints about Jhally’s movie and into the organization of the conference itself. After some wrangling, UMASS said it would give CAMERA the emails—at a cost of nearly $2,400. There was a catch, however: the person who would be responsible for determining which emails to hand over to CAMERA would be Sut Jhally himself! Jhally would have to go through the emails and erase (or redact) private information about his students before handing them over to CAMERA. This is a clear conflict of interest that contradicts both the letter and spirit of Massachusetts’ public records law.

This detail was what prompted CAMERA to ask that someone else other than Jhally select and redact the emails in question. This is a clear conflict of interest that we ask you to resolve.

While it is likely that Sut Jhally will not be held accountable for manipulating the record in his movie “The Occupation of the America Mind,” you can send a clear message to the UMASS Amherst community and the taxpayers who support it that you are committed to upholding academic standards at the institution. You can also send a message that the University’s administration will not protect its professors from legitimate scrutiny under Massachusetts’ public records law.

And lastly, we ask that you encourage faculty and students at UMASS Amherst to approach issues related to human rights and conflict in the Middle East in a more accurate, comprehensive and open-minded manner than they have in the past. We ask that you remind the faculty at UMASS Amherst, that it is their job to teach students “how” to think, not “what” to think.

Such an admonition, coming from UMASS Amherst’s Chancellor will go a long way toward improving the atmosphere for Jewish students on the campus and toward assuring students, parents and taxpayers that the school is truly committed to living up to its mandate as an institution of higher learning.

Sincerely,

Dexter Van Zile
CC:

Marty Meehan, President, University of Massachusetts
Board of Trustees, University of Massachusetts
James Peyser, Secretary of Education
Massachusetts Board of Higher Education
Senate and House Members of the Joint Committee on Higher Education

Update Posted on September 27, 2019

As it turns out, Professor Jhally has admitted to using the college classroom for his own ideological purposes. He made this admission in a video posted on the YouTube Channel of the Media Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut. CAMERA has sent the following email to Chancellor Subbaswamy alerting him to Dr. Jhally’s statement. The text is as follows:

Dear Chancellor Subbaswamy:

In our letter dated September 18, 2019, CAMERA stated that [it fears] Professor Jhally “has used the classroom to further his own political and ideological agenda.” [Note: the phrase “it fears” was mistakenly omitted from the email.]

In light of our concerns, I would like to draw your attention to a public statement from Dr. Jhally in which he admits to doing exactly this. Speaking before an audience in August 2017, Dr. Jhally called on audience members to get professors to show his movie, “The Occupation of the American Mind,” in their classrooms. Here is what he said:

“For us, the main place we want to get to and that we encourage is the classroom. And it’s the college classroom, because that is a captive audience. Students have to watch. If a professor says, we’re gonna watch this, we’re gonna talk about it and it’s on the test, they have to watch.  We want to make use of that captive audience.”

Professor Jhally made this statement in a video posted by the Media Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut. [The section can be seen here.]

Professor Jhally’s admission of the use of the college classroom as a captive audience confirms the fears we raised in our letter.

We hope you act on this issue decisively.

Sincerely,

Dexter Van Zile